A suspect has been put on trial for the rape and murder of a teenage girl 25 years later after investigators managed to restart the cold case using modern DNA techniques.
The accused, only identified as 52-year-old Ralf H. under strict privacy laws, is currently standing trial on murder charges in Dortmund, a city in the Western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
The public prosecutor’s office said it is all but certain that Ralf H. killed 16-year-old schoolgirl Nicole Schalla in 1993 after she boarded a bus back home from a friend’s.
At around 10.45pm she got off the bus at a stop near her home, but was reportedly followed by a stranger, who the prosecutors allege was Ralf H.
The next day, her body was found by a newspaper delivery woman. An autopsy showed that the teenage girl had been raped and then killed by strangulation.
In June 2018, German cops arrested Ralf H. after investigators managed to match the DNA of a skin particle found on the body of Nicole to him.
Lawyer Dr Arabella Pooth, who represents the parents of Nicole Schalla, who was an avid horse rider, as co-claimants in the case, hopes the trial will finally solve the mystery of the schoolgirl’s death.
Dr Pooth said: “The beginning of the process is very upsetting for them. They are not feeling well, they are also in psychological care.
“It would be the worst situation for my clients if there was proof of guilt but on the other hand there is no possibility of punishment due to limitation periods.”
Dr Pooth referred to the German statute of limitations which dictate that Ralf H. could only face punishment if he is found guilty of the murder charges, which could see him jailed for life.
If he is however found guilty of manslaughter, the crime would be statute barred after 20 years which means that Ralf H. would walk free.
The accused’s lawyer Ralph Giebeler vouched for the innocence of his client in court and said the DNA trace could also been explained by normal social contact.
He thinks that an unknown young man who got off the bus with Nicole, as testified by the bus driver, might be the culprit behind the murder.
Giebeler said: “It’s been a long time since the bus driver was questioned. He saw how the victim left the bus with another.
“Then a drawing was made that was published in all the newspapers. And this person surprisingly never got in touch with the authorities, perhaps because he is probably the culprit.”
Nicole’s mother said in court with tears in her eyes that she and her husband were on holiday in the Netherlands at the time of the murder on their daughter.
She said: “We spoke on the phone on Thursday and we talked about how we would return home at the weekend.
“Our daughter was for the first time home alone. She wanted to bake cookies. She went to the stables almost every day. We also talked about how she wanted to introduce her new boyfriend to us when we got back from holiday.”